A Marine looks through the Commandant's Reading List section at the library aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif. The Commandant's Reading List is being overhauled to align the professional reading tracks of officers and enlisted Marines. (Lance Cpl. Rebecca Eller/Marine Corps)
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Lieutenants are way more likely to do their recommended professional reading than lance corporals, right?
A new survey finds that enlisted troops and officers read at the same rates, and that 75 percent of Marines say they enjoy reading. Due to those and other findings, officials with Marine Corps University are overhauling the Marine Corps Professional Reading Program. The survey of 1,400 Marines within education commands was conducted in January and February.
Starting in August, the Commandant’s Reading List will be reconfigured to align the professional reading tracks of officers and enlisted Marines. First and second lieutenants will read alongside privates, lance corporals and corporals, while captains and majors will be on the same reading track as sergeants, staff sergeants and gunnery sergeants.
“The trend to be a reader or not to be a reader is pretty consistent,” said Lt. Col. Rob Peterson, director for professional military education policy and operations at Marine Corps University. “The statistics are the same for enlisted as officers. By the time a Marine reaches 22 years old, we think that if you’re going to be a reader, you’re a reader at that point.”
The change also aims to encourage more conversation around professional reading topics throughout the ranks.
“We want to encourage lieutenants and and captains to talk with sergeants and corporals and lance corporals,” Peterson said.
Other changes are coming. For example, Marine officials will introduce a new reading list for civilians working for the Corps. A draft version of that list contains “A Message to Garcia,” Elbert Hubbard’s archetypal essay on accomplishing the mission; “Making the Corps,” Tom Ricks’ account of how Marine recruits are transformed at Parris Island; and “Leading Marines,” one of the Corps’ own war-fighting publications.
This change, too, Peterson said, is based on an analysis of the needs of the population.
“What we found is we have young civilians who come and work for us who have no perspective on the Marine Corps,” he said. Providing recommended reading choices to these members of the community would help them better understand the roots of the Corps and the expectations that came along with that.
Another new feature of the reading list overhaul is the introduction of optional themes that can be incorporated into professional military education to encourage reading and enrichment within units and shops, Peterson said.
“We’re going to gather up some readings — chapters on the list, magazine articles, maybe movies — that all apply to the same theme,” he said.
The first theme on the schedule has a historical angle, the life and times of Lt. Gen. John Lejeune, as a study of leadership and professionalism in the Marine Corps. Up next year is a study of the Marines’ fight on Iwo Jima, in time for that battle’s 70th anniversary.
While the changes will not roll out until early August, Marine Corps University has begun a promotional effort with videos featuring seasoned Marines — and some active-duty and retired legends — discussing their favorite books and why reading makes them better war fighters.
One of the video spots features Sgt. Maj. Bradley Kasal, a Navy Cross recipient best known for heroically working to save fellow Marines despite severe wounds and loss of blood during a house-clearing mission in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. Kasal is seen exiting the house supported by two Marines in an iconic photograph by freelance photographer Lucian Read.
Now serving with the 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, Kasal said that his favorite book on the reading list is “Gates of Fire,” Stephen Pressfield’s historical fiction account of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C.
“I have quotes and pages or stories out of dozens and dozens of books. If you go to my house, you’ll see bookcases full of books that are highlighted and tabbed on different things,” Kasal said in the video. “And depending on if I’m giving a speech or if I’m giving a PME or lecture or class, I’ll pull certain books that are related to that certain topic and use them as references and even bring the book with me rather than write it down. They’re very valuable tools for really everything you do.”
Other videos, not yet released, will feature retired Gen. John Allen, retired Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper and — yes — beloved retired Gen. James Mattis sharing what reading means to them.
Mattis, the former head of U.S. Central Command, is already known to wax eloquent on reading. In a 2003 personal email that became public last year, Mattis told a colleague that war fighters who avoided reading would be forced to learn the hard way.
“Perhaps if you are in support functions waiting on the war fighters to spell out the specifics of what you are to do, you can avoid the consequences of not reading,” he wrote. “Those who must adapt to overcome an independent enemy’s will are not allowed that luxury.”
That correlation between being well-read and being an effective warrior is the foundation of all the new professional reading program projects.
“We don’t want anything to be punitive about the process,” Peterson said about the upcoming changes. “We want people to understand the value of it. We want to whet their appetite for reading, and help them find the right books up front when they’re younger.”
The books on the list won’t be re-evaluated for another year: Peterson said the content of the list is reviewed every two years and was due to be evaluated again next summer.